4 Reasons Your Company Needs A Collaboration Upgrade, Stat

Microsoft's $1.2 billion purchase of Yammer shows just how crucial enterprise networks are to business already--and how major a role they will have going forward. Here are four more motivators to get social.

An organization is no longer limited to a physical structure or proximity; an organization is now limited only by its ability to connect employees and information together.

By far, the number-one business driver for most organizations is being able to connect colleagues across teams and geographies, and this should come as no surprise. Companies of all shapes and sizes have employees based in multiple physical locations and working remotely; this is now commonplace. The ability to keep employees connected is not something that legacy systems and e-mail platforms can do effectively or perhaps at all.

Collaboration isn't new. Employees have collaborated for many years via phone, e-mail, in-person discussions, letters, carrier pigeons, and other media. In fact, collaboration has been around since the first two humans grunted at each other while planning their next kill for sustenance.

If collaboration has already been enabled in other ways, why bother investing in collaboration via emergent collaborative software? Why do organizations need to connect their employees via internal social networks, wikis, or workspaces when they can just e-mail one another or call one another on the phone? Ed Coleman, the CEO of Unisys, put it best when he said, "Sharpening our organization's communications capabilities, creating greater transparency, and improving access to our intellectual assets [people] could only increase our flexibility and responsiveness."

Knowledge Sharing and Transfer

There are two types of knowledge that need to be shared and transferred at organizations: new knowledge and old knowledge. The concepts are exactly what they sound like: Old knowledge refers to knowledge that already exists within the organization, and new knowledge refers to knowledge that is created within the organization, perhaps new ways of doing things.

At your company, if you want to share information or transfer knowledge, how do you do it? Most likely your organization is using a legacy intranet system that basically acts as a massive warehouse for information. Employees attempt to search for and find the information they need. If an employee wants to edit that information (assuming he or she has permission to do so) or update it, it is usually necessary to download it, make the edits, and re-upload it. Even then it becomes a bit tedious for multiple people to collaborate on a document or a piece of information. Chances are, your organization also uses e-mail as a way to share information. E-mail has become the de facto chat messaging program in many companies. Employees send an e-mail and then instantly get a response. That's not e-mail, that's instant messaging, and it needs to stop.

Does this mean that e-mail is evil or that a massive war should be waged against it? Although many would say yes, I say absolutely not.

E-mail was meant for asynchronous communication, and sometimes using it does make sense. However, e-mail shouldn't be used for everything and should be integrated into other existing flows of work.

Even though e-mail was meant for asynchronous communication, what do we do? We stare at our inboxes and our phones, waiting for new messages. In fact, I can't tell you how many times I have watched people walk into poles, walls, and other people because they were checking and responding to e-mails. Technology is supposed to support us and do what we tell it to do. Instead we have the opposite: Technology tells us what to do and when to use it.

Sharing knowledge and information in this way is very inefficient. Using e-mail causes problems with versioning, content duplication, reaching the right people, and locating the proper information later, among a host of other annoying problems.

Emergent collaborative platforms not only allow employees to store and share information; more important, those platforms allow them to collaborate on that information without ever sending an e-mail. Institutional knowledge is something that exists within every organization yet is one of the hardest things to share.

New Opportunities and Ideation

How does your organization come up with new ideas or identify new opportunities? Chances are that specific teams within departments or groups of executives get together to discuss these topics. However, every employee in your organization should be empowered to share his or her ideas and help discover opportunities. Why should this be limited?

Many organizations struggle to empower their employees to develop and create new ideas that they can share within the organization. In effect, the voice of the employee is lost inside many enterprises. Being able to empower the employees to share ideas and opinions in a public way allows an organization as a whole to develop new ideas while exploring potential new opportunities.

Thinking Out Loud

One of the ways people learn from themselves and from others is by thinking out loud. This allows coworkers and colleagues to see the thought process around how certain decisions are made within organizations. I know many of us have that little internal voice we hear when working on something, especially if it's an exciting project. I'm sure many of you often talk to yourselves out loud. You are not the only one who can benefit from that little voice inside your head. I guarantee that you have several colleagues who could learn from you by tapping into your thought process, and you could learn from them. For example, let's say you want to develop a business model for something you are working on. You can share your thought processes publicly as you begin to crank out ideas. Other employees will then be able to provide you with feedback and their own ideas, which you may be able to incorporate into your model. This ability to think out loud was never possible before.

Collective Intelligence and Memory

Lew Platt, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, once said, "If HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive." Collective intelligence refers to the ability of an organization to use the wisdom of its employees to make business decisions. This premise means that better, more accurate decisions can be made. Let's say that an executive at your company says that she wants a new product developed in three months. Employees from different departments and business units can share their ideas and feedback on whether this is feasible. Perhaps the marketing team is not able to meet the deadline because of a conference it is planning, or perhaps the product team is already swamped with projects. The same idea can be applied for budget estimates for projects.

Being able to leverage the knowledge of a collective is more accurate and far more powerful than leveraging the knowledge of just a few.

Jacob Morgan, The Collaborative Organization, ©2012, McGraw-Hill Professional; reprinted with permission of the publisher.

For more insights into workplace collaboration, read Fast Company's interview with Dion Hinchcliffe, author of Social Business by Design.

[Image: Flickr user Toffehoff]

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10 Comments

  • Michael

    My comment is in no way intended to devalue the validity and merits of your thesis. Still, I feel that within organizations and in conferences, there is far too much emphasis on the importance of developing tools and systems to facilitate collaborative idea creation. There appears to be much less interest and emphasis on how to effectively collaborate effectively to promote, champion and implement new opportunities. Softer skills are required here, perhaps. But essential to capitalizing on the collaboration at the very front end of innovation.

  • Dave Phillipson

    CEO Space has been the Captain of the Collaboration Movement for nearly three decades.
    It's nice to see that others are now getting the message.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

    Dave Phillipson, CP
    CEO Space
    http://bit.ly/l4xEVB
    The World's Largest, Oldest & Most
    Successful Organization for CEOs,
    Entrepreneurs & Visionary Investors
    http://www.GlobalC-EOspace.com
    Dave@GlobalCEOspace.com
    714-886-9CEO (9236)

    P.S.  Those that know me, understand that there's not much that excites me more than helping a fellow entrepreneur grow their business!  I am passionate about sharing my resources, knowledge, and elite connections in order to build businesses cooperatively.

    I do this by receiving referrals from people like you.  Who do you know that is a business owner who wishes to grow with strength & velocity?
               

  • Farzin Arsanjani

    Jacob, 

    Great article. Collaboration is often considered an abstract term within the context of day to day work that takes place within any organization. The four drivers (categories) for using collaborative technologies outlined here will resonate with any professional in organizations ranging from small to large. The article however gives the impression that emerging social collaboration technologies alone can address the collaboration challenge within organizations. I would argue that a combination of both structured and social collaboration tools - integrated within the same collaboration suite of tools are needed. Collaboration among colleagues and team members can only be effective if exchange of information and knowledge takes place within the framework of defined workflows and business processes in support of team/company goals. While social collaboration tools are excellent for exchanging information they are not well suited for defining and creating the framework that team members need to further a common goal. Effective collaboration requires both structured collaboration tools (project management, document management, intranets/extranets...) to create the required framework and assets (folder structure, permissioning, projects/tasks with deadlines, dependencies, milestones...etc) and emerging social collaboration tools so that team members can share updates, exchange information and collaborate in pursuit of these goals. 

  • Mike Blumenstein

    Take a look at MangoApps and see if it's not suited for defining and creating the framework in a social atmosphere. Love to hear your feedback.

  • Ara ohanian

    Jacob,
    you’re right that the cultures of most organizations lag behind the
    possibilities of today’s technologies and often the technologies they already
    have in-house.  The fact is the business
    world has changed. We've gone from a world where knowledge is power to one
    where information is free. But most organizations haven’t caught up with this
    yet. The smart ones which have effortlessly collaborate not just internally but
    also across the extended enterprise - getting the most out of their supply
    chains, their customers and their partners. This ability to rapidly gather,
    filter and act on information is going to be a crucial differentiator for a
    successful organization.

  • Bryan M Muntzer

    As someone who passionately makes a living providing collaboration solutions to organizations, this piece is well written, and greatly appreciated. 

    There is a generation out there in the workforce that thinks instant messaging is something kids do on AOL [they probably even think the internet still makes funny noises while initializing]. And then to escalate those chat sessions into an audio/video call - drag others in for group chat...this is how things are getting done in organizations. Making quick decisions as a team, and moving on to the next thing. 

    I can tell you that our company, and the companies that have invested in the technology conduct more business real-time, have reduced email, and have become insanely more productive. This all translates to greater productivity and decreased costs.

  • ZilicusPM

    Excellent piece. 
    It is inevitable and teams need to collaborate to keep up with today's business dynamics. 

    I would like to take your point further 'Technology is there to help/support us not to force us to do something' and say ' the technological solutions should enable transparency and accountability among its users.  

    Otherwise imagine what would happen with extremity of collaboration.

  • Albert

    Amazing piece of information......i think collaboration is the way to go for the future organization!